Going, Giving, Gone.

mexico summer 2004 010Last year, a friend’s comment pierced me.  I was regaling him with stories of my day, which had been full of outlandish examples of helping other people. Honestly, I was expecting him to say, “What a crazy day! You must be wiped out!”  Instead he smirked and said, “Joy needs to be needed.”

I felt as if he’d slapped me.  After an exhausting day of laborious physical care for someone in need, it felt like I’d been ridiculed.  To make matters worse, that same friend had benefited from my help earlier in the year when I’d been a last-minute call for child care and was nearby after a surgery to provide ice changes and meals. It was fine to need me then, but now he’s making fun of me? I was indignant.  I don’t need to be needed. I notice needs and try to help!  Isn’t that a good thing?  I stewed all night about it; in the morning, I confronted him. My friendship with him runs deep so I knew he had my best at heart and he’d appreciate my honesty. Naturally, he was horrified that he’d hurt my feelings and he affirmed his gratitude about the times I’d helped him, but he didn’t back down.  “You shine brighter when you are helping others,” he said. “It’s just your nature.”emma's 7th birthday 053

I know myself well enough to know that when my heart stings, there is truth to be discovered. Like, maybe a comment struck just a little too close to home. Not exactly bull’s eye, but if I dig around and self-examine, I’ll likely find the place where it connected beneath the surface. For months I’ve pondered why his comment cut so deep.  What’s so bad about feeling good when I help others?  I guess on the extreme we call this co-dependent behavior, and to a lesser degree, people pleasing.  I’ve certainly danced my way through both of those danger zones, but at this point in my life, I rest comfortably in a healthy place on the giving continuum. At least, I think I do.

half moon bay with Louis 006Louis, my youngest, graduates from high school in two weeks.  Today, I decided to read all the college essays he submitted months ago.  Buried in the middle of a fabulous essay, I found this:

My mom likes to say that there are two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers. It’s how we view the world, how we treat others, how we look at our place in the universe…. For takers, the world is full of opportunities for them to snatch. They live in a fantasy land of wealth and options—life is within their grasp. They eat all the bananas, they never buy groceries, they always take the first serving at meals.

Givers, like my parents, are the opposite. They look at the world as empty, and they are the only ones who can fill it up. They give their time, their energy, and their sanity. My father flew from Chicago to Houston to help my sister’s ex-boyfriend move into college because his parents couldn’t leave Singapore. If I’m ever sad, or anxious, or worried, my mother gives me whatever time I need to help me through, time she could spend doing any number of other things, like making money.

I try hard to be a giver… But it doesn’t always work out; it doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t understand how my parents put up with it all … But I do try. I try my hardest to give what I can—my time, my input, my energy—to those around me. Because that’s who I am. That’s who my parents have raised me to be.

pumpkin carving 013This giving, this “needs to be needed”… it’s a thing. If my boy is writing to potential colleges about it, I must have managed to make it a core family value, a thing to be passed on.  Why doesn’t it sit well with me?  Why did I resist when my friend pointed it out?

I’m closer to understanding it, but here’s some of why it hurt:  No one actually needs me right now.

Soon, Louis will graduate and fly off to a summer working on a farm, on his own. After that, he’ll move to a new city and begin a life without me.  I fully expect he will never live at home again.  I’ve been warned about the empty nest.  Sure, I’ll be waving and smiling as my last child crosses that stage to get his handshake and diploma, but inside will be utter heartbreak.  As a feeling of nostalgia floods me, I’ll stare blankly at my husband and wonder what in the world we’ll talk about for the next 25 or 40 years. Women who’ve gone before me have whispered to me about it.  “It’s a new chapter, is all.”  “Parenting just looks different; it doesn’t end.” “You’ll need to invest in your marriage in a new way.” “You’ll finally get to do all the things you’ve wanted to do.”  “It can be exciting if you let it be.”

DSC_9607No one spoke about the loss of not being needed any longer, and that’s where I feel empty.  I feel like I have so much more to give.  I always knew I had enough mothering to give four children, but I only had two.  I’ve had to intentionally ration this nurturing love so that I didn’t overwhelm my two.  Sometimes I think of my business as my 3rd child who will never fly the coop.  The more smother-mothering I give that one, the faux kid, the more she blossoms.  But not the first two, my real children. I have to hold back.

IMG_0411My dirty little secret, the one I can’t share with everybody, is this: I’ve loved being a mother.  I mean, I’ve really, really loved it.  It feels dirty because I’ve always felt like society needed me to be more.  It needed me to really, really love my career, really, really love politics, really, really love non-profit work and volunteering, or even really, really love my husband. (Remember that pot-stirrer?)  But for me, mothering is what lit my fire. It’s made me shine brighter. Sure, days were long and hard, it was a thankless job for the most part and it wasn’t always fun.  I recall one particular night my husband emailed me from a posh restaurant where he’d just enjoyed a delicious dinner in London on a business trip.  I read his note while eating the leftover Kraft macaroni and cheese that was still on the kids’ plates hours after dinner. Part of clean up routine – after bath, books, songs, one more potty, one more hug, one more banana-because-I-am-still-hungry, and a can-I-sleep-in-your-bed and will-you-lie-with me…sigh – was that I finally got to eat dinner alone.  But dinner was usually whatever was left on their cold plates.  So, was mothering, glam? No.  But satisfying? Deeply.  Like, deeeeeeeeply.  An ex-boyfriend wrote me after I had my first baby, ostensibly to offer congratulations, but then asked why I’d stopped working. “I always thought you’d do more with your life, “ he casually said.  Nope.  “More” was right in front of me and I fully stepped into it. “More” was raising these two:

“More” filled me up.

To. The. Brim

I got lucky with the two kids I got and they got lucky with me.  We were three peas in a pod.  I was good at my job and I was happy in my job, but I have no job now. Except my actual job, which I will keep plugging away at.  But my soul’s work, it has finished.

IMG_4538My friend worked for a bank for many years and the bank closed the division she’d run. It was a management decision and had nothing to do with her work.  In fact, they hired her back to oversee the downsizing of the department and she was great at it. It was methodical and important work.  But, she told me that as much as she found the downsizing work satisfactory, she’d rather have done it for a different company, one she hadn’t worked so hard to build.  As she chipped away pieces of the funds, investors, clients and human resources, she was cutting down the very thing she’d brought to life.

Yep. As successful as I was at mothering, these last few years have been just like that: intentionally stripping away my control, my influence, my involvement, my voice in their ear.  Stepping back, so they step forward.  Creating a hole in me, so they could feel full.

And now I am empty.

photo 2 2

I’m in the final stretch of this job.  My last day is known; it’s two weeks from tomorrow.  There will be no retirement party.  Like my friend, if I’ve done my job well, there will be nothing left.  The boy will take it all with him. Parenting is a one way street.  All the love and care is supposed to flow from me to them and then they keep walking down that street away from me, headed to their own destiny. This is how it is supposed to work, Joy.

One of my BFFs messaged me last week.

Her: How are YOU??

Me: I am good, sister.  All things under control and doing a good job mothering my last final weeks of having any kid live with me. 😦

Her:  When does he leave?

Me: Graduates June 6. Flies June 10th never to live with me again!!!!

Her: Omg

And then she proved her worth as one of my best friends by asking me this:

Her: Give me three words to describe how you’re feeling.

Me: loss, unknown, free

Her: Yes

Her: That makes perfect sense

Me: you are the bestest of friends to ask me that sweetie

IMG_6663This weekend we had our final family Sunday night dinner.  This is a big deal, guys.  A really big deal.  The Sunday night family dinner is the cornerstone of our week. As far back as my kids can remember it was our special time.  They could invite friends, or they could be surprised by who we invited.  It could be us four or twelve more; week to week we never knew.  But Brad always cooked on Sunday nights. On this our final-final, Brad pulled a huge slab of beef from the fridge and smoked it for hours and hours on our grill.  I set the table with care. I asked Louis if he wanted to invite anyone and even suggested a few people.  “I think they’d be fun to have, but it’d be more fun for it to be just the three of us.” So, I only put out three plates.  It took me six months to stop accidentally setting the table for four when Emma, his older sister, went to college, but I’ve finally switched gears to three.  Soon, I’ll set for two.IMG_3836

Today, when I finally caught up with Louis’s essays, months after he’d turned them in, I found this:

What will you miss the most about your current community when you leave for college?

Schedules are sacred. They’re the only things that never change. Sunday: Wake up. Go to church. Get lunch. Chug a coffee. Do homework. Then, the Gordon family dinner.

It’s a little tradition we have, a part of the schedule that—come hell or high water—will not change. Every Sunday, the members of the household convene to share and laugh about the week over food. No matter who’s at our table, from best friends to half-strangers to the various ne’er-do-wells of Singapore, we always have Sunday dinners. It’s more than a meal. It’s my communion. It’s my safe place. It’s my childhood.

Soon, I’ll have my last sacrosanct Sunday dinner before I head off to university. But I know that someday, I’ll manage to find a new group of tablemates. Even if my family is halfway around the world.

IMG_5795Louis, it looks like I’ll need to do the same thing. I need to find new tablemates.  My heartbeats will be halfway around the world and my table is still big, but now empty.

There is loss: I’ve worked my way out of a job.

There is unknown:  Who am I after this?  What if that was my life’s work? What if I am never this passionate about anything else?

But, there is also freedom.  I’ve done this job well.  I can turn off the lights and walk out, walk into a new world.

It’s time for me to find other places to give, because, well, it turns out my friend was right:  Joy needs to be needed.

Screen Shot 2018-05-29 at 8.54.27 AM

I am so happy he does not need me as much anymore.

One of his essays touched me so deeply.  I’ve been blowing my nose ever since reading it.  If you have time, and can take some geek-talk, you can read it here: Louis’s magic essay .  During the time in his life that he writes about, I quietly asked a close friend, “Am I warping him by making myself his best friend?”  She put her arms around me and said, “Joy, you are saving him.”  You were right, NBF.  This picture is Lou and me, just last week at one of the many ceremonies meant to bring me to tears.  We’re still the dynamic duo. Through thick or thin he can always count on that.

That won’t ever change, Lou!❤️

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Do you have a child moving on to a new phase?  Into the crowded hallways of the scary public school you’ve been giving the stink eye for a few years?  Walking away from college to pursue his own thing?  Into boarding school?  Is your girl getting married?  Leave a comment below and tell us about the transitions you are facing in motherhood and how you are dealing with it.   Wise ones ahead of us, what helped make it easier for you?

P.S.  Welcome to all the recent subscribers!  I’m Joy. I post random pieces at random times, but I promise to keep you laughing, crying, or at least thinking!   If you were forwarded this from a friend but want to catch the next addition (in 6 months or 6 days from now… we never know) simply fill out that form at the top right corner.  It looks like this:

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30 Comments on “Going, Giving, Gone.”

  1. Terrie Kidwell says:

    Joy,
    Congratulations on giving your children wings to fly! Your heart will continue to swell as you watch them grow. They will always need you, but it will be different. I look forward to spending time together navigating this new chapter (empty nest) in our lives. Enjoy graduation🎉🎓🎉🎓

  2. Margo Maloney says:

    Love you!

  3. Jan says:

    Ah, Joy…The world is so lucky to have you. How is it that someone so much younger than me can have so much more wisdom? Jan

  4. mvanderlaan says:

    Oh Joy. So many emotions stirring right now after reading your incredibly well written and thoughtful post. And to allow yourself to be so open to your readers by revealing some of Louis’s essays. OMG! It takes my breath away. And some of the memories from Emma and Louis’s childhood are intertwined with mine, of course. (Might that pic on the beach be one of our trips to Monterey?) This post hits so close to home! Being “out of a job” myself I can relate to the feelings of not being needed anymore. I know we’ve discussed it, but putting it down in words sure has a way of clarifying things. Your willingness to sit with these thoughts and take the time to write a post is inspiring! And you write so well. Of course, our babies are supposed to go out and live their lives and that’s exactly what we want them to do….. but still it’s bittersweet, and fraught with all manner of emotions. The flip side is not good; like “failure to launch” in the movies or that couple last week in NY who had to take their 30 yr old to court to get him to move out of the house and get a job!  Obvi, you’re a great mom. That’s a given and I’ve seen it first hand over the years. So I know your bond with Emma and Louis will PREVAIL through the years to come. Doesn’t make this time any easier…..  Thinking of you, and will see you soon for lunch and eyebrows? Love and xoxo,M.

    From: joylibby To: mvanderlaan@sbcglobal.net Sent: Tuesday, May 29, 2018 3:10 AM Subject: [New post] Going, Giving, Gone. #yiv1319389011 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv1319389011 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv1319389011 a.yiv1319389011primaryactionlink:link, #yiv1319389011 a.yiv1319389011primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv1319389011 a.yiv1319389011primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv1319389011 a.yiv1319389011primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv1319389011 WordPress.com | joylibby posted: “Last year, a friend’s comment pierced me.  I was regaling him with stories of my day, which had been full of outlandish examples of helping other people. Honestly, I was expecting him to say, “What a crazy day! You must be wiped out!”  Instead he smirked ” | |

    • joylibby says:

      Thank you Miss! Yes – this is the option I’d choose – ready kids! Am sure your own nostalgia was toggled by the pictures because yes you were there!!! The one picture with a pine tree was taken outside of your Tahoe house the spring before we moved! You’d lent it to Louis and me on a very spontaneous over night ski trip. That was the time we were well on our way and Louis looked at me in his stockinged feet and said “did you bring my shoes?” headed to the snow in socks only! he’s come so far. Thank you for walking this parenting life with me Miss! more to come, right?

  5. Andi Pincheira says:

    Oh my goodness, Joy. You’ve done it again. I’m weeping over your words. I’ll need some time before I can go back and read Louis’s essay. I feel the same about mothering. I dread the day it will end and I know its coming fast. Congratulations on a job very well done! Thanks again for sharing your life so beautifully. Love you! Andi

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    • joylibby says:

      Andi – thank you for your sweet words. Indeed it will come faster than you’d expect, but I’ll be there to make sure you are ready. I have a tribe holding me right now and I look forward to standing with others as they are standing with me. much love.

  6. jeffcspears62 says:

    Spoiler alert. I have watched that my wife’s giving responsibilities never end. Great post

  7. Lori Brooke says:

    You are still giving – to all of us through this beautiful post. You have a remarkable way of putting into honest, candid words what many of us feel, but have not verbalized. Sharing (giving) of yourself in that way makes me, and I am sure others, feel they are not alone, or better yet, not crazy! You have shown your children how to be kind, curious, interesting, and yes, giving citizens in this world. Lean into and enjoy all that you have done and know that you have set in motion the next chapter that will challenge, delight and fulfill you. Your children will someday have their Sunday dinners and you will be at the table with them! The world is a better place with you in it. Love you.

  8. Stacee says:

    Pure Joy! Love + Miss you ❤️

  9. Lena Long says:

    Maybe during this next chapter of your life, you’ll write a book. I’ll buy it.

  10. Karen Walz says:

    Joy, I loved reading this, as I wipe the tears… “But my soul’s work, it has finished” is what did it for me!! Beautiful kids and family you have, I bet your work isn’t done, it’ll just be a different kind of work 🙂

  11. You’ve done a good job, now what about tending to yourself?

  12. Danette Mares says:

    Just want to wrap my arms around up very tight, I love you! 🙂

  13. Rachel Smith says:

    I wondered if a mother could suffer a broken heart on college drop off day. During our l o n g drive home after dropping Jerry off, my sense of loss was more than overt and sad and piercing. I couldn’t shake the feeling that my relationship with him was ending. How could it not be? He was leaving. And now it was over. Did I do enough? Regret washed over me like a sneaker wave, that big, bad boy wave that knocks you over when you turn your bag to the ocean. And you weren’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared for this, I told myself. I regretted not teaching him more. And now there was no time.

    You should have seen me trying to cram in more mothering and lessons on the two day drive up with him to his school. He sensed my desperation I think. He listened. He said, “Okay, Mom. Thanks, Mom. I will Mom. ” But my mothering days were so done and no more life lessons could be imparted two days before college. There is no all night cramming with parenting. You teach and teach, and show and show, and live by example and live by example, and circle back around and circle back around, and then you drop your child off at college and hope and pray for the best. Like making very small, regular deposits in the bank for 18 years, you just hope and pray the dividends emerge when he needs them, his knowledge emerges, to live honorably, safely and well. Like leaving the party before things change, and go wrong. Like keeping track of himself and his buddies so he and they make it safely home to their dorms. Like trying new things and talking to new people and embracing all that college is which is much more than keggers. All without me to guide, suggest, remind, frame and shape his days. And now it was over.

    Wrong. My job was not done. It just changed. During college he needed me. He called and asked my advice! He needed me when he wanted to break up with his girlfriend but didn’t know how to do it without hurting her. He needed me when he accidentally showed up a day late to a Final Exam. (Still cringing to think of it.) He needed me when his friend’s unhelmeted head found the cement sidewalk, skateboarding, and should they go to the ER? He needed me when a friend of a friend accidentally overdosed and died.

    What helped me not die of a broken heart four years ago was to realize it wasn’t an end. It wasn’t an end to us, to me and my boy, and the relationship I loved with him. It was a new beginning. Now he’s graduating college in a couple weeks, and again, I must remind myself this is also not an end, but another new beginning. Just as his wedding will be and the birth of his children will be.

    Joy, there is no way Louis will ever stop needing you. Ever. He’ll just need you differently. He will always seek your wise counsel. He will always share his happy news and upsetting news with you. He will always be with you, no matter how far away he is. He will always need you.

    – Rachel

    • joylibby says:

      Rachel — you have long been a mother/writer I admire and today is no different. Thank you for sharing with such vulnerability – matching me sweetie, that’s one of the reasons we love each other! Am sure I’ll be leaning into you more next year. ❤️

  14. Alisa says:

    Oh Joy I loved this! and loved his essay Magic too. I have cried all the way though! You are an amazing mother! ( and i imagine a mother to more then just your own two)

  15. Lois Sowell says:

    Joy this is fantastic. I am now teary eyed. Just got back from a wonderful cruise down the Mississippi. Ate so much good food.

    I wont to send Louis some money but can not remember what I gave Emma at her graduation. Do you remember?

    Love U! talk later.


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